being a teacher

On the Circle of Privilege

White, Black,  Free Image

We woke up to a flight delay.  Not the kind you want to have as we embarked on our 28-hour travel to Bangkok.  Not the kind you want when you already have only a few days to be somewhere. As the morning went on, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make our connecting flight, and numerous phone calls ensued.  Anxious minutes spent waiting to see whether Thailand was within our reach or not.

After 25 minutes of checking every airline, every combination, even surrounding airports, the verdict was in; no, we were not going to make it.  Not on time.  Not tomorrow, perhaps Thursday.  Flights oversold, not their fault, just how it is.  My heart sank, a trip of a lifetime had just turned into a 2-day excursion to the other side of the world.

And then something curious happened.  The representative noticed that we were not flying coach. That we were first class on the first bout of the trip due to a small upgrade fee and all of a sudden within five minutes, we were on a flight.  In fact, we were upgraded to first class the whole way arriving only an hour after our original arrival time.

I have never flown first class across the ocean, there is no way we can afford it on a teacher’s salary, and so we were those people; taking selfies in our sleep pod, taking pictures of the pajamas, the slippers, the amenities, the food.  The everything.  We were less than ten people and yet we had four flight attendants taking care of us.  They even opened up the bathroom door for us when we had to go.  Anything we needed was ours.  All put in place to ensure that not only did we reach our destination, but we reached it well-rested, well-fed and with brains functioning at an optimal level.

And I couldn’t help but think to myself throughout the whole thing this is what privilege looks like.  This is what it means to have a head start simply because of your circumstances.

Had I not been able a long time ago to upgrade that short 1-hour flight to Detroit as a way to surprise my husband, we would not even be here.   Because of that small step up, everything else was given to us.  The guarantee of rest, of proper food, of an exuberance of attention that continues at the hotel we are staying at.

We were given more because we had more to begin with.  

This is what happens to many students in our schools every day, where things outside of their control determine the pathway they take through our learning experiences.

Where because they had access to books at an early age, they become early readers, who later are placed in enriched classes.

Where because they had access to adults who had the luxury of not working long hours, they had someone around to sign them up and take them to extracurriculars leading to more participation in clubs, in events, in everything that makes colleges look at you a little more.

Where because they had access to decent food, to sleep, to calm, they were able to come to school and do well, meaning they were given opportunities for those who knew how to do school.  Who didn’t have to work through trauma or hunger, or homelessness, or anything else that can completely change your experience as a learner, as a human being?

And yet, none of that is decided by our students, the very kids the experiences happen to.

All of that is a life set in motion by things outside of their control which then leads to further privilege, to more opportunities, to better lives.

So what can we do once we realize the pathway our students are put on?

We can go beyond tests to measure their capabilities, after all, we all know there is nothing standardized about test results even when we sign forms to proctor them all the same because that would mean that our students had standardized lives to begin with.

We can go beyond data points and truly look at how we compare kids, look at how we determine who gets which opportunities.

We can see the whole child and their circumstances, ask more questions rather than assume and make that information a part of our decision-making when it comes to the opportunities presented to kids.

We can confront and dismantle the very perceptions we carry about the students we teach and the capabilities they have based upon their circumstances.

We can increase the opportunities for all instead of limiting it to a few.

We can offer more support through family advocates, guidance counselors, tutors, and other point people to those who need it to even the playing field.

We can recognize and actively work to change the part we play in the oppression and perpetuation of a stereotype of kids and their destinies who come from backgrounds that are not similar to what society would like us to believe is the norm (heteronormative, white, financially secure etc).

But we can’t do that if we don’t look at all we have been given and realize that while we may have worked hard for some of it, some of it was also just handed to us.  Was put in place before we even came along so we didn’t even have to ask for it.  Was given to us not because of who we are but because of a group we belong to.

And we can be so grateful that our paths were easy and within that gratitude realize that it is our job to pull others up, not as saviors, but as connectors, as people who need to make room for others to do better than us.  Because frankly if we say as educators that we want to change the world then that change does, indeed, start with ourselves.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



106 thoughts on “On the Circle of Privilege”

  1. So important to remember students who are homeless. Spring break is not joyful. Easter is not joyful. First class is not attainable but it would be nice If we could get them into coach seats….😎 Safe travels!

  2. I have given several talks on privilege.
    I need prepare no longer.
    This blog captures it so succinctly.
    I need only direct people to it.
    I will do my usual sharing of your writing..
    Thank you for your on going challenges and insight.
    You provide such a helpful platform.
    From Judy KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

  3. Such an insightful and though provoking post. Thank you for taking the time to do this, even with your much deserved vacation on the horizon. I love to read your blog posts and share with my colleagues in education, who always appreciate what your write as well. I hope you enjoyed your vacation!

  4. Very true! Teachers often forget that the students we work with are capable of great things. There circumstances do not define them, instead we need to remember what our role is. It is not to pass judgement or to continue to limit them, rather we should inspire and show them the possibilities.

  5. Yes, I’ve always referred to this as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Of course, that is not my original saying, but I certainly realized how true it was when I became a teacher in a low socioeconomic school. This became glaringly evident all around me in my students’ lives. I’ve worked to help change that and to also help them understand that their best way to break free from this is through their education.

  6. Is your vacation experience and the school system an analogy? (Serious question….I could never pay attention in English grammar classes.) If so…wow, it’s such a GREAT analogy.

  7. A well-written, insightful article! Being married to a teacher I’ve heard and seen the exact scenarios that you described here – it’s heart-breaking. Thanks for shedding some light on the topic.

  8. Don’t forget the privilege of not experiencing repeat childhood trauma from poverty, stress, violence, and police targeting. Don’t forget the privilege of not being harmed by lead toxicity, inferior healthcare, and sometimes homelessness.

  9. This is such a great blog, great way to introduce such a pressing issue and make it relatable to so many.

  10. Thank you for this great perspective. I “struggle” with the approach to addressing and making proper use of my privilege (in the hopeful service of others) also. Important reminder.

  11. Well done and totally on point! I will be sharing this. Having worked in schools in the hardest areas of the inner city, as well as with children from very privileged upbringings, I have seen exactly what you speak of. Some kids get more because they already have more. And … there is so much we can do to help even out the opportunity curve, if we learn to see what we may not know is there (or is missing). Thank you for this post!

  12. This was beautifully written and on-point. It’s people like you, that speak up, that allow everyone to take a step back and reflect. It’s the conversations we all create that lead to change. Thank you.

  13. “that it is our job to pull others up, not as saviors, but as connectors.” This was my favorite line from this post, it really hit on an important note. When we approach helping others with the idea of “saving them,” even when our intentions are good,we are perpetuating an idea of superiority.

  14. This gave me the most inexplicable goosebumps of my life. You hit every nail and with such precision and experience. You are the agent of change. I really applaud you for this.

  15. I love the way you weave your personal travel experience into your role as a teacher. Privilege is real and I’ve experienced the way your feelings while living in developing countries on multiple continents. Thanks for sharing this with those who rarely venture outside their comfort zones. I also have written on similar topics. Please stop by when you have a chance!

  16. Awesome.

    Im a Social Worker and its very important to look at the many parts of our clients to support them in creating the best treatment plans. Also to not allow burnout to take over its important to understand that we all werenr raised the same!

    Thank you for posting. Check out my post if you get a chance.😁

  17. “We were given more because we had more to begin with.” It hurts to breathe from reading this, just because it is so true. Especially with my partner coming from a VERY wealthy family living completely insulated and protected from the horrors (or even the reminder) of what they consider “the outside world,” it was extremely disorienting and brutally painful for me to wholly realize that my life in poverty was not an experience shared by others but was actually not normal. That is when I understood every single cry, wail, scream, and snarl from every single oppressed and suffering person under the roof of the sky. That is when I understood I was completely under-privileged – I was told I lived an “opulent” life because I managed to get into a PhD program, or that my father made $100 too much to qualify for food stamps, or because we had three meals daily unlike others.

    What I thought was normal, or even that I in particular lived “an opulent life,” I realized that it was the story we were fed – and we believed it. We suffered for it. That truly enrages me.

    Thank you for this post – it hurts, and the more it hurts, the more we have to remind and show and take the dust off to say, “There are people bleeding out. You don’t even have a scar – and then you think that those who bleeding out inflicted their own wounds and seek no relief. Do you realize how cruel and illogical that is?”

    As a teacher who specializes in teaching twice-exceptional and gifted students, as well as students on academic probation or who show complete numbness to learning because of the institution: I don’t know whether to celebrate or mourn – to celebrate, that these children are truly living the life that I never had, full of learning and opportunity and even total implementation of Non-Violent Communication, allowed to develop themselves in every single facet of their being — to mourn, there are thousands of kids that, gifted like me or not, are not receiving the education they deserve or being completely gaslighted or run-over by the supposedly ‘gifted’ / ‘honors’ / ‘AP’ level education I was given. They’re treated like criminals, like robbers and thieves, like violators, like crazy feral people ready to lunge on any white person, from the moment they step into the classroom… simply because their parents are immigrants from political turmoil or death warrants, because they are in an overpopulated and under-resourced community where fraud is rampant and money always disappears, because the news portrays our children as feral violators to-be and their very community starts believing it, too.

  18. Great post. So true. I’ve only flown business class a few times (in a previous job). I found the experience comfortable but a little weird. The way cabin crew crouched down to talk to me, smiling all the while. All because of the extra $$s paid. Checking my blanket covered me… like I was a child…

  19. This is such an easy metaphor to make your concept clear, and it is such an excellent point.

  20. A perfect example of privilege in today’s world. We were just at Colonial Williamsburg and learned plenty about how the ‘men’ in “All men are created equal” were white protestant male property owners. What was true then is true now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s